Revered restaurant critic and food writer Grace Dent is on the front line of London’s flourishing culinary scene. The Masterchef regular also hosts the ever-popular Comfort Eating podcast and has recently published a book of the same name, taking readers on a journey through the foods that mean the most to us. So who better to share her go-to foodie hotspots in the capital? Here, Grace Dent takes us through her favourite London restaurants, from an experimental Indian in Mayfair to the best vegetarian food in Soho.
Where The Chefs Eat
Grace Dent’s favourite restaurants in London
This is the restaurant that says to me that London is back after a really hard time. I had a lovely long meal at Mountain recently with my man Charles and it feels like 1998 in there, the place is full to the brim of people doing business lunches. It’s large, airy and glam with a bakery downstairs, and it’s the absolute place to be seen at the moment.
The chef Tomos Parry is the man behind Brat in Shoreditch – he has this nerdy, intricate attitude to food and recipes. The thing I ate that stands out the most was his homemade walnut bread with very thinly sliced peach and bottarga, which is fish roe. It was fruity and nutty and delicious and never in a million years would you make that in your own house. Imagine thinking, ‘I tell you what, I’ll just slice up a peach and have it with some fish’.
16-18 Beak Street, Soho, London W1F 9RD
64 Goodge Street
A new restaurant that has gone straight into my repertoire of places I would send anybody – I’d send you to 64 Goodge Street on a date and I’d equally send you there if your parents are in town. It’s from the people behind Quality Chophouse and it’s a very intimate place that feels like a special treat. It’s so beautifully, expensively done in all these dark greens and dark browns that make it cosy and atmospheric.
The food is very classic with recipes and sauces and techniques that you would only really know how to do if you’d studied French gastronomy from 1910. Absolutely none of it is a health food. The last time I was there, I had the lobster vol-au-vent with sauce Américaine. They do a pommes aligot, which is basically cheesy mashed potato, but the absolute highest grade of potato with loads of stock and butter and fat and cream and cheese. Anything French with ‘pommes’ at the beginning is my absolute downfall.
64 Goodge Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 4NF
Akoko is West African food at a very high-class, tasting menu level. I went there for the first time with one of my best friends, Hugh, and I was preparing myself for tiny amounts of food, but I remember coming out feeling really well fed and like I’d learned so much about a cuisine that I didn’t know an awful lot about. I’ve eaten jollof rice probably 500 times in my life and it’s a dish that is a contentious issue – every country believes theirs is the best and they’ve got their own way of doing it. The one I had at Akoko was made with Herdwick lamb, aubergine and XO sauce and it was spicy, sweet and absolutely delicious – the best jollof rice I’ve ever tasted.
The restaurant is buzzy, and I was really knocked out by the cocktails – even though I don’t drink now, the stuff that was coming out was really intricate with all kinds of bells and whistles. They’re really going for it and they need Michelin recognition.
21 Berners Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 3LP
Bubala is a restaurant everybody needs up their sleeve. It’s not massively expensive and it’s what I call a secretly vegetarian restaurant. It’s just there, casually being utterly innovative. If you take a real carnivore, they’ll often order without noticing that there isn’t any meat.
They do a thing called ‘Bubala knows best’, where they bring amazing vegetables done in wonderful Middle Eastern ways. The last time, I ate oyster mushrooms with tamari and coriander seed, amazing smacked cucumbers and tahini, Saffron braised fennel, butter lettuce with raspberry molasses, and confit potato latkes. Everything comes with chamomile and fennel honey or whipped feta or Aleppo chilli, and they’ll do things like Chinese cabbage on skewers with preserved lime and cardamom, and you think ‘if I tried to put cabbage on a skewer, it would be hilarious’. I often go there with my agent and he’s a fussy eater, but he loves that place. Bubala is one of those reasons that you can’t quite leave London.
15 Poland Street, Soho, London W1F 8QE
65 Commercial Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6BD
The Midland Grand Dining Room
Incredibly chic and ornate, the The Midland Grand Dining Room is like going into a flamboyant 18th-century French king’s sitting room. There is gold and velvet and chandeliers, and it’s the campest place in London, not just because of all of the wonderful decor but the fact that the stairwell when you walk through the front door is where the Spice Girls did their dancing in the Wannabe video. They do a dish called snails bourguignon with pomme Paillasson and it’s basically a very, very posh hashbrown with snails in a stew, but far better than that sounds. On the dessert menu, they have a souffle du jour and I would eat one every day of my life – I’ve never met a souffle I didn’t like. They also do a rum baba with crème Chantilly that I absolutely love.
If you’ve got anybody special to you coming in and out of King’s Cross, they could literally get off the train from somewhere like Peterborough and walk 100 metres into this wonderful restaurant, and then get back on the train. It’s a wonderful way to be able to give a treat to somebody that you love – or, in fact, take your Dad and let him pay.
St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, Camden, London NW1 2AR
BiBi is a very modern experimental Indian restaurant with rows and rows of Ferraris and Bugattis parked outside. It’s mysterious, you’re not quite sure what you’re going to get because the menu doesn’t give away a lot – it will just say things like lobster salan or goat galouti kebab – and I think Chet Sharma, the chef, is an absolute genius. He cooks from memories of his family’s food and dishes that he loves from all over India, but in a very Michelin starred way.
I go there for Friday date night with my man, and we sit up at the bar on these tall, opulent stools where the lighting is so flattering and twinkly that it gives you this peachy Hollywood glow and takes 15 years off you. They do a non-alcoholic cocktail called Kulukki Sharbath, which is Indian lemon juice with passion fruit seeds floating about like little bubbles and green chilli soda. It’s like a fiery hot lemon juice drink. I love drinks that take me on a journey. For dessert, I like their buffalo milk paneer and pistachio kulfis that come in the form of mini Magnums. It’s one of the best restaurants in London.
42 North Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 6ZP
Homies on Donkeys
A Mexican restaurant where they play 90s hip hop and make the most incredible tacos. It’s all done with such care. Homies on Donkeys is not flash, just come as you are, and it’s always mobbed so you can never get a table – me and my man often go about 5 o’clock on a Friday evening before the rush.
We’d choose anything and everything off the menu, there are king prawn tacos, spicy chicken barbacoa tacos and the guacamole is top class, but I had the chuck steak tacos smoked in roasted guajillo chillies with spring onion relish last time I was there. It’s not a 90s themed restaurant but it takes me back to being in my twenties, all loud Beastie Boys and great tacos. It’s like eating in a suburban skate park. It’s a scene.
686 High Road Leytonstone, London E11 3AA
The Wanstead Kitchen
This is a local Indian place near where I live that you can sit in, but I also get all my takeaways from there. They do loads of amazing vegan dahls, a curry of the day and very good souped-up British Indian classics. When I did a Radio 2 show on Christmas Day, I was going out live and I preordered a massive banquet from Wanstead Kitchen for when I got home. Christmas dinner was a Hyderabadi biryani and a black chickpea curry called iftar kala chana.
The Wanstead Kitchen is my happy place. It’s heaven. My favourite thing is waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning and knowing that I’ve got loads of Wanstead Kitchen biryani in the fridge that I’ll be having for breakfast.
93 Pevensey Rd, Forest Gate, London E7 0AR